One of the artistic wonders of the world, the ceiling of Rome's Sistine Chapel has fascinated visitors from around the globe for nearly five centuries. During that time, observers have not only been captivated by the beauty of the frescoes themselves, but also by the story of their making and their maker, Michelangelo Buonarroti. This story, a tale replete with drama and intrigue, serves as the subject of Ross King's fourth book, "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling." Today, Ross discusses the artist's life and the making of this masterwork, and dispels some common myths about Michelangelo.

Contrary to popular lore, Michelangelo did not paint the chapel's ceiling lying flat on his back. According to Ross, his posture on the scaffold can best be described by the Italian term "resupinus," meaning "bent backward." Because the chapel's center aisle had to remain clear for the clergy and their religious activities, a standard, ground-based scaffold would have been unacceptable, as its supports would have blocked the aisles. For this reason, Michelangelo's scaffold rose sixty feet high and allowed him and his assistant to stand up to paint the ceiling. Furthermore, although it is widely believed that Michelangelo painted the entire ceiling by himself, this is simply untrue, according to Ross. The artist, in fact, had as many as twelve assistants helping him to complete the job-a legendary commission that took a little more than four years to complete.

Ross King

Ross King

"Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" (Walker & Co., 2003)


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